By Tom McDonald

A large diverse family, euphorbia are often found in our Sonoran Desert gardens. Many have a poisonous sap as protection from herbivores, making them ideal in gardens plagued by critters; however, this irritating sap affects humans and their pets as well, so care should be taken. Plants in this genus have a wide range of growth habits, from small annual plants to large tree-like specimens. Many are confused with cacti. Many are true succulents, able to store water and withstand long periods of drought. 

A few euphorbia you may know:

  • Firestick [E. tirucalla v ‘Rosa’]:  This plant changes color with the seasons.   The pale green tips change to orange to bright red as temperatures drop, reversing the process as temperatures warm. Research into using its latex to produce oil that can be converted to gasoline has proved to be promising. Traditional medicines of many cultures have used firestick to treat tumors, warts, rheumatism and even toothaches. Modern research has shown that it suppresses the immune system and may cause cancer. The irritating milky latex causes burning and itching on the skin and severe pain and temporary blindness in the eyes. Swallowing the latex reportedly causes death. HANDLE WITH CARE! If exposed to the sap, immediately rinse the area or, if in the eyes, flush for at least 15 minutes. Seek medical attention if there is no relief.
  • Poinsettia [E. pulcherrima]: A native of Mexico, these colorful ‘flowers’ are actually modified leaves. The urban legend that this plant is toxic has been traced to a report from 1919 that a two year old child died after consuming a leaf [Wikipedia]. Most spurges have toxic sap but the poinsettia sap is relatively mild; a 50 lb. child would have to eat 500 leaves to accumulate enough poison to do harm. 
  • Moroccan mound [E.resinifera]: This plant resembles a cactus with small thorns. Grows to a modest three feet with equal spread, grayish green in color.  Its symmetry makes it a nice focal point.
  • Gopher plant [E. rigida]: A small succulent whose leaf bracts turn yellow in the spring is often used as a perennial ground cover.

Discover more about euphorbia and other Sonoran Desert favorites at the following free classes:

  • Garden Walk February 7 at 9 a.m. with Tom McDonald.
  • Irrigation Class February 21 at 9 a.m. with Tom McDonald and Bill Roe.

Space is limited so call 480 288 8749 or email to reserve your spot!